Tangier Island - British base for the blockade of the Chesapeake



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During the War of 1812, the British fleet developed Tangier island into a base of operations for their the new Corps of Colonial Marines composed of escaped slaves.




Positioned one third of the way up the Chesapeake Bay, across from the mouth of the Potomac, and in the middle of the widest part of the Chesapeake, Tangier Island was well a positioned base for a blockade of shipping coming down the Bay from Baltimore, from the rivers of the eastern shore and any vessels trying to get out of the Potomac. The British constructed two redoubts to protect the deep water anchorage on the southern side of the island. There they had constructed officer quarters, huts for the privates, a hospital and parade grounds and called it Fort Albion.

As part of their campaign to terrorize and defeat the citizens of the Chesapeake region, the British had promised freedom to any slave. These slaves were given the choice of serving in the British army or navy or being sent as free men to British colonies in North America or the West Indies. Offered $20 and a bright red British uniform, plus reluctance on the part the British to lose a fighting man by transferring any escaping slaves to other parts of the Empire, many joined the new Corps of Colonial Marines. Service in the British army or navy as a "free" man, as difficult as it was, it was vastly better than the tyranny of slavery. Fort Albion was constructed as a home and training grounds for these new allies in addition to a strategic location for the conversion of prize vessels and support for the blockade of the Chesapeake. Tangier Island and Lyndhaven Bay remained the primary locations for British ships throughout the Chesapeake campaign.




The forts walls measured 250 yards long. Twenty-six 18 pound canon protected the troops, 100 bed hospital, vegetable gardens and docks where barges were constructed.

The British decision to actually arm slaves caused a renewed fear of a slave revolt among the plantation owners of the Eastern shore and the counties south of Baltimore. Slavery harmed the new nations ability to defend itself from the British, not only because the direct aid and local knowledge that escaped slaves provided the British effort, but also because of the resources that needed to remain in place to protect against an uprising. Unable to mount an attack on the British at any other time or place, this plan to recruit. arm and train escaped slaves galvanized a plan to mount an attack on Ft. Albion. Commodore Barney sailed from Baltimore with two-thirds of his unprepared and undermanned gunboats. Although plans of the outfitting was published in the press the British and the newly arrived Admiral Cockburn were unaware of it until just before the flotilla arrived in the area. Barney's plan was to sail down the western shore and cross over the bay to Hooper's Straights and down the chain of islands of Bloodsworth, Smith and Tangier Islands. He anchored off Drum Point and awaited favorable winds and tides to make the crossing.

Sending a small force up the western shore seeking the rumored fleet, the British sighted them on the morning of June 1, 1813. Significantly outnumbered in this scouting fleet, a canon signal and quick retreat back to the Potomac secured the protection of the 74 gun ship of the line HMS Dragon. The American force, at first hoping to capture a British prize, were now the chickens running from the fox. A sudden squall further threatened to swamp the poorly designed gunboats. Under full sail, the Dragon pursued the Americans until she was stopped by shallow water. Retreating up the Patuxent, the British blockaded the mouth of the river and awaited more reinforcements. The struggle during the next weeks, as the British attempted to pry Commodore Barney from his defensive position, is called the Battle of St. Leonard's Creek.

The British continued to use Tangier Island as a major base and staging area for the attacks on Washington and Baltimore.


    "Before they left Tangier Sound, Brother Thomas was summoned to exhort the soldiers. At the appointed hour, some twelve thousand men were lined up in columns to hear Joshua Thomas preach. He warned them of the danger and told them God told him they could not take Baltimore and would not succeed in their battle.." from www.tangierisland.net

The British maintained a presence on the island until word of the end of the war by the Treaty of Ghent reached the Chesapeake in mid-February, 1815

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